As an individual of a certain age, my relationship with social media has been tenuous at best. I am of the generation that did not have email until college, and even then, it was so new that no one really used it; I did not even access the Internet until I was in graduate school! I also grew up playing on metal playground equipment over concrete surfaces… perhaps you can guess my age.
I recall hearing about Facebook maybe ten years ago from some of the Gibbes college-age interns and thinking, “wow, Facebook sounds annoying,” and I avoided it completely for a few years. However, as a point of reference, I grew up in the Chicago area, which means that I have an entire lifetime of friends, relatives and experiences that are separate from my current life in South Carolina. At some point, the lightbulb went off that Facebook was an easy way to reconnect with people from my past; and it’s fun to see what people look like, who their husbands and wives are, what careers they chose, how many kids they have, etc. I joined Facebook in 2003 and will admit that it has become a daily part of my life; however, Facebook was as far as I wanted to go. I do have a Linked In account but it seemed necessary for professional connection and the truth is, I don’t use it much or utilize its networking components. Thank you to everyone who has “endorsed” me on Linked In. I don’t know what that means but I thank you.
Between Facebook and Linked In, I felt satisfied with my social media interactions. I recall hearing about Twitter about five years ago. With its 140 characters and hashtags I again thought, “why do I need to do this?” I am sure I am showing my age but the nuances, etiquette and immediacy of Twitter was just not something I wanted to dive into; I did not intend to ever tweet. For years I was able to say, “sorry, no Twitter account,” and I survived proving that it is possible to live a fulfilled, socially connected life without Twitter… really! Fast forward to September 2015 when the Gibbes suddenly found itself without a Communications Manager, a position that had recently handled the Museum’s social media accounts of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While the Gibbes ultimately made the decision to contract out marketing needs to the fabulous Lou Hammond & Associates, keeping up with social media was not part of the contract. As a result, our staff did what we always do, stepped up to handle the situation. We discussed social media offerings at a meeting and several staff members expressed interest in taking on the extra responsibilities. Becca Hiester, our Curatorial Assistant, graciously agreed to handle the Gibbes Facebook page and Amanda Breen, Membership Coordinator, volunteered to do Instagram postings for the Museum. But what about Twitter? Director, Angela Mack, asked, “who wants to tweet for the Museum?” and the silence that ensued was deafening. I really thought our younger staff would jump all over this but the pressure to tweet and hashtag constantly and be clever in 140 characters and represent the Museum well and not sound silly or make typos that 4000+ people might see was a seemingly overwhelming responsibility. Also, the fact that our entire staff is already working on overdrive to get the Museum open by the end of May 2016 contributed to the fact that the Gibbes Twitter account was left without a champion. And then, as is often the case with me… my mouth opened and the following words came out “I’ll try Twitter.” WHAT JUST HAPPENED? I think I literally stunned myself, but before I had a chance to utter another word, the entire staff response was “Great! Thanks! Done.”
Ok, maybe it wasn’t a complete verbal anomaly that I volunteered for Twitter. I have, in recent months become intrigued by this medium as it is talked about at EVERY museum professional conference I have attended over the past few years. There are sessions about how to Tweet for your museum, how to hashtag, how to use Twitter to engage millennials, how to use it to promote exhibitions, how to connect, how to open doors. It is just everywhere and I have had a growing sense over the last year or so that this was something I should at least understand and learn about its value to the 21st-century museum. Twitter is not going anywhere and neither am I; we need to be friends.
So now I had the opportunity to learn about this type of social media on behalf of my institution without the pressure of having my own account. Fine, time to dive in and tweet! Lasley Steever, Director of Public Programs and Special events, who had some experience with Twitter, helped me get logged into the Gibbes account and gave me a brief tutorial on how it all worked. I will admit that the first time I looked at Twitter I experienced temporary paralysis and immediately thought, “WHY did I say I would do this?” Unlike Facebook which seems to move at much slower pace, Twitter updates come pouring in by the second. I recall sitting in front of my computer for an hour (good use of my time right?) watching tweets roll in from the 400+ entities that the Gibbes already follows and being mesmerized by the variety of posts and hashtags and retweets. After watching the feed for a while, I began to get extremely paranoid about what I would tweet, because whatever I wrote, there was the potential for literally thousands of people to see it! What should I tweet about? On any given day the Gibbes has multiple classes and programs going on. We have events coming up. Should I tweet about those and “tag” people involved? Should I make up hashtags? I didn’t even understand the whole hashtag thing. My questions and fear of tweeting something silly continued, so I closed Twitter and went on with my day. However, I could not ignore it for long. I had to get a tweet out as the Gibbes had been in a Twitter silence for weeks due to our change in staffing. I finally reopened the application and thought, “ok, I’ll tweet about something I know, something I am living with every day,” the Gibbes renovation. I posted a picture of the outside of the Museum with scaffolding still up and put some sort of hashtag on it and made a comment about renovation progress and hit “Tweet,” and then closed the application to move on with my day. Wouldn’t you know it, when I checked back later that tweet had been retweeted and “liked” and the Gibbes had gained a bunch of new followers. This initial success made me realize that tweeting really wasn’t as a big a deal as I was making it and there was no need to put pressure on myself to send out the perfect tweet! The more I began to tweet (about the art collection, about the renovation, about the new collection storage space, about our programs) the more I began to realize that the beauty of Twitter is the immediate engagement. Each bit of information pushed out there touches one of our followers in a different way. Some are interested in the building renovation and some are not. It does not matter, it is the fact that we are making the effort to communicate with everyone!
Back to present day. I am still handling the Gibbes Twitter account and those of us working on social media have received some training on how to use the various applications more effectively. I have been on the road overseeing the return of our art collection from off-site storage sites and have admittedly not done a lot of tweeting, but I will get back to it soon. I still get a thrill when someone retweets something I have posted, or if other entities tag the Gibbes account and engage with us to share their excitement about our renovation or new logo or great press we have been getting. Every now and then I decide to be more proactive with the tweets as well. One day I posted a lovely picture I had taken in the cypress swamp at Caw Caw Interpretive Center and tagged Charleston County Parks mentioning that is was easy to see where Charleston artists get their inspiration for many of the landscape paintings in our permanent collection. This tweet led to a retweet from Charleston County Parks and a direct engagement/conversation about possible collaborative programs. THIS is the power of Twitter! I get it! I am not intimidated by it anymore and feel empowered to tweet about all kinds of things on behalf of the Gibbes; someone out there will be interested!
I am still a Twitter novice at best and it is difficult at times to get regular posts in (as I have a few other projects to juggle now… ahem… the unpacking and reinstallation of our entire art collection) but I am doing my best. So if you are a Gibbes Twitter follower now you know who is behind the tweets. If you follow us, THANK YOU… and please know that every retweet and “like” on our posts gives me inspiration to tweet more! Actually, I need to go update Twitter now. Thanks of reading!
—Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration and voice of the Gibbes on Twitter